At this point, a postseason berth won’t come as a surprise to the Rangers.
It might even happen with two weeks left in the regular season – paying early dividends of success.
There was a scenario where they got there on Monday night, but even if that didn’t happen, the Blueshirts can guarantee their spot with a win in Columbus on Tuesday.
That would present a new reality for the Rangers, something of a waiting game.
After a few months filled with line changes, power play adjustments, new additions and defensive shuffling, however, coach Gerard Gallant doesn’t necessarily plan to do more in the games that left the Blueshirts.
“It could happen,” Gallant said after practice Monday when asked about the possibility of experimenting after clinching.
“But to be honest, I’m quite happy with the last 10 games. … You don’t want to shrink it and try to be too smart, because things can backfire.”
Last year, the Rangers got it with nine games left in the regular season, and this year, they could get it with nine games left if Buffalo loses to Montreal on Monday night and Florida loses to Ottawa.
Rangers coach Gerard GallantAP
But even if that scenario didn’t unfold, the Rangers control the playoff prospect against the Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden, with a chance to clinch the top three in the Metropolitan Division, one of the Blueshirts’ wins next. Combined with an Isles loss in regulation, or two wins combined with a Penguins loss, or one win combined with two Pittsburgh losses.
Even a loss to the Blue Jackets — the worst team in the Eastern Conference by 15 points entering Monday’s game — in Tuesday’s classic trap game won’t prevent them from extending their season further into April, though it would hinder their push up the rankings. get a more favorable first round match.
Early in the season, the Blueshirts weren’t exactly cautious with these games.
They have lost to the Sharks, Blackhawks and Canadiens at the Garden.
Rangers have an extra challenge to face as they have placed in the standings.
Gallant knows — he was a player, with the Red Wings and the Lightning — and admitted Monday that it’s “more mental than anything else right now,” trying to prepare and win games as if their season was on the mic. the results of each
But if Gallant wanted to rest a player, “there’s not a lot of flexibility right now.”
The main exception could be defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who returned from a shoulder injury last week that flared up again and forced him to miss Thursday and Saturday’s games. Lindgren skated Monday and was a full participant in the Rangers’ practice, but Gallant said “we’re not going to back down.”
“But when he’s ready to come back, he’s going to come back,” Gallant said, “but we’re going to make sure.”
Gallant also returned to his ways from the start of Saturday’s game — after briefly getting mixed up midway through the game against the Panthers — pairing Artemi Panarin with Mika Zibanejad and Vladimir Tarasenko and pairing Chris Kreider with Vincent Trocheck and Patrick Kane. Kreider and Panarin were replaced.
The Blueshirts’ top-six production has matched the Kid Line’s emergence and helped the Rangers to an 8-2 record in their last 10 games, keeping pace with the Devils and Hurricanes and preventing Carolina from securing another. division title yet.
Patrick Kane was the latest piece added to Rangers’ knockout squad. NHLI via Getty Images
But Gallant reiterated that he is not concerned—or at least to the degree he would admit to—the Rangers’ postseason opponent.
In the past, he said, people could pick games between the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds and say, “Well, we know who’s going to win that series.”
“That doesn’t happen anymore,” Gallant said.
A short bus ride to the Prudential Center would be “interesting.”
A series against the Islanders would also be “battles.” But the precedent of those postseason matchups would make it seem as if a playoff berth was less certain.
Gallant doesn’t think any players need to rest now, which, he said, is a good thing.
“I think things are starting to come together, you just have to keep building and try to peak at the right time,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said.